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Full text of "My Country And My People"

210          MY    COUNTRY   AND    MY    PEOPLE

the spoken language we require a bisyllabic lao hu ("old tiger")
to distinguish it aurally from a dozen other AM'S, but in writing,
the character hu alone is sufficient. The literary language is
therefore much more monosyllabic than the spoken language,
since its basis is visual and not aural.

From this extreme monosyllabism then developed an extreme
terseness of style, which cannot be imitated in the spoken
language without the risk of unintelligibility, but which is the
characteristic beauty of Chinese literature. Thus in China we
have a metre of exactly seven syllables to each line as the
standard metre, saying probably as much as two lines of English
blank verse, a feat which is inconceivable in the English
language, or in any spoken language. Whether in prose or in
verse, this economy of words produced a style where each word
or syllable is carefully weighed to its finest nuance in sound-
value and is surcharged, as it were, with meaning. As with
meticulous poets, Chinese writers are careful in the use of a
syllable. A real mastery of this clean-cut style therefore means
extreme mastery in the choice of words. Hence arose a literary
tradition for mincing words which later became a social
tradition and finally a mental habit of the Chinese.

The consequent difficulty of this literary craft caused the
limitation of literacy in China, which needs no elaboration.
The limitation of literacy in turn changed the whole organiza-
tion of Chinese society and the whole complexion of Chinese
culture, and one sometimes wonders whether the Chinese
people as a whole would be so docile and so respectful to their
superiors had they spoken an inflexional language and con-
sequently used an alphabetic language. I sometimes feel that,
had the Chinese managed to retain a few more final or initial
consonants in their language, not only would they have shaken
the authority of Confucius to its foundations, but very possibly
would have long ago torn down the political structure and,
with the general spread of knowledge and given the millen-
niums of leisure, would have forged ahead in other lines and
given the world a few more inventions like printing and
gunpowder which would have likewise affected the history of
human civilization on this planet.